Shining moments: More than a smile

Masha Halkina was 5 years old when her mother asked her to light the stove to heat a pot of tea in her home in Rostov, Russia. The match fell and started her dress on fire. Before her mother could extinguish the flames, Masha had suffered severe burns.

She received basic medical treatment from doctors. Still, her injuries were extremely painful and unsightly. During the next nine years as she grew, the burned portions of her skin became distorted, like a piece of tape stretched over an inflating balloon, causing her body to slowly deform.During this time - unknown to Masha - were two young men, Clint Duke and Devan Griner, in high school who were associated with a worldwide service organization of medical personnel called Operation Smile. Both would be instrumental in easing her pain.

Masha was 14 years old and had just joined the Church with her mother, sister and brother when then-Elder Duke of the Russia Rostov Mission was transferred to her area. Elder Duke saw in her the same joy he had seen in other new members of the Church. He also saw her pain.

After returning home to Bountiful, Utah, in October 1997, Elder Duke helped the Utah Chapter of Operation Smile bring Masha to Salt Lake City for treatment.

Elder Griner from Sandy, Utah, was also serving in the Rostov mission and was influential in obtaining governmental permission for Masha and her guardian to leave the country.

Masha left Russia, and on Aug. 4, two Bountiful, Utah, doctors, Dr. Greg Kjar of the Bountiful 50th Ward and Dr. Dan Sellers of the Mueller Park 10th Ward, donated their time and skills to perform an eight-hour skin graft surgery.

Recovery for Masha was painful and many scars remain, but before she returned to Russia Sept. 3, she was able to lift her head to see the sky and raise her arms above her head, something she hadn't done for years.

"It was great to see the change in her outlook," said Brother Duke. "This was more an operation on her soul than her face," he said, explaining how the love of many people during her time in Salt Lake City helped improve her self-image.

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